A Mandatory One-Year Waiting Period for Divorcing Parents Is a Terrible Idea

What Women Really Think
Oct. 26 2011 12:36 PM

A Mandatory One-Year Waiting Period for Divorcing Parents Is a Terrible Idea

An additionally mandated one-year waiting period for divorce may do more harm than good

Photo by Getty Images.

In an op-ed in last Friday’s Washington Post, family studies professor William J. Doherty and former judge Leah Ward Sears claim that many people who get divorced actually want to stay married. So the authors set out what they say is a “modest reform”: a mandatory one-year waiting period before parents with minor children can get divorced. But their portrayals of what divorcing couples want and what divorce laws require of them are seriously misleading. 

First, the authors have hardly any evidence that divorcing couples want to stay married. Their claim is largely derived from a Minnesota study of just over 300 couples going through divorce; in 30 percent of these marriages, one spouse expressed interest in reconciliation services, and in another 10 percent, both spouses did. In other words, in 90 percent of these couples, at least one partner was completely uninterested in reconciling. Setting aside the wisdom of premising national policies on the self-report of a hundred-odd Minnesotans, their responses are hardly a mandate for year-long waits for divorce.


Second, as I point out in a letter published in today’s Washington Post, the authors misrepresent how long it currently takes to get divorced. They leave readers with the impression that divorce is available on demand, by claiming that most states have “waiting periods” of six months or fewer. It’s true that in most states, once someone files for divorce, he or she isn’t required to wait long to get one. But what the authors leave out is that in many states, in order to file for a no-fault divorce in the first place, couples have to have lived “separate and apart” for months or even years. (No-fault divorce lets couples end their marriages without one spouse accusing the other of wrongdoing.) In other words, states already force couples to take plenty of time to decide whether they want to reconcile.

Sears and Doherty’s Second Chances Act would extend the wait even longer, requiring couples to weather a year-long waiting period after already satisfying their state’s statutory separation period. At best, this would leave families in prolonged limbo, preventing them from getting on with their post-divorce lives. At worst, the long wait after filing could encourage the 90 percent of couples unlikely to reconcile to run into court as quickly as possible. That’s hardly conducive to reconciliation.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.